The cause of astrocytomas is not known.
Children may have difficulty walking, weakness, vision changes, vomiting, and headaches.
Diagnosis usually involves an imaging test and a biopsy.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Astrocytomas are the most common brain tumors in children Overview of Brain Tumors in Children Brain tumors (also see brain tumors in adults) are the second most common cancer in children younger than 15 years of age (after leukemia) and the second leading cause of death from cancer.... read more , accounting for about 40%. These tumors are usually diagnosed between ages 5 years and 9 years.
Symptoms of Astrocytomas
Pressure within the skull increases, causing headaches (often when children first awaken), vomiting, and listlessness. Children may lose their coordination and have difficulty walking. Vision may be blurred or lost, and the eyes may bulge or involuntarily jerk in one direction, then drift back (nystagmus).
Astrocytomas in the spinal cord may cause back pain, difficulty walking, and muscle weakness.
Diagnosis of Astrocytomas
Magnetic resonance imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) In magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a strong magnetic field and very high frequency radio waves are used to produce highly detailed images. MRI does not use x-rays and is usually very safe... read more (MRI) with a contrast agent Radiographic Contrast Agents During imaging tests, contrast agents may be used to distinguish one tissue or structure from its surroundings or to provide greater detail. Contrast agents include Radiopaque contrast agents... read more is usually done. If MRI is unavailable, computed tomography Computed Tomography (CT) In computed tomography (CT), which used to be called computed axial tomography (CAT), an x-ray source and x-ray detector rotate around a person. In modern scanners, the x-ray detector usually... read more (CT) is used, but it provides less detail.
Then doctors must take a sample of tissue from the tumor and examine it under a microscope (biopsy) because treatment is based on how abnormal the tumor cells look (the tumor’s grade). These tumors are typically classified as low grade (for example, juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma) or high grade (for example, glioblastoma). Grades I and II tumors are low grade, and grades III and IV tumors are high grade.
Treatment of Astrocytomas
Surgery (if possible)
Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both
(See also Cancer Treatment Principles Cancer Treatment Principles Treating cancer is one of the most complex aspects of medical care. It involves a team that encompasses many types of doctors working together (for example, primary care doctors, gynecologists... read more .)
Most low-grade astrocytomas are surgically removed Surgery for Cancer Surgery is a traditional form of cancer treatment. It is the most effective in eliminating most types of cancer before it has spread to lymph nodes or distant sites (metastasized). Surgery may... read more . If the astrocytoma is completely removed, children may not need any other treatment.
Sometimes, separating the tumor from normal brain tissue is too difficult, or the tumor is inaccessible. In such cases, radiation therapy is used instead. Radiation therapy Radiation Therapy for Cancer Radiation is a form of intense energy generated by a radioactive substance, such as cobalt, or by specialized equipment, such as an atomic particle (linear) accelerator. Radiation preferentially... read more is used in children who are over age 10 years who have a tumor that cannot be removed surgically, that is likely to impair intellectual functioning, or that progresses or returns after surgery. If children are younger than 10 years, chemotherapy Chemotherapy Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Although an ideal drug would destroy cancer cells without harming normal cells, most drugs are not that selective. Instead, drugs... read more may be used instead of radiation therapy because radiation therapy can interfere with growth and brain development in young children. Most low-grade astrocytomas can be cured.
High-grade astrocytomas are treated with a combination of surgery (if possible), radiation therapy, and chemotherapy (see Combination Cancer Therapy Combination Cancer Therapy Cancer drugs are most effective when given in combination. The rationale for combination therapy is to use drugs that work by different mechanisms, thereby decreasing the likelihood that resistant... read more ). The outlook is worse for children with a high-grade tumor, in whom the overall survival is only 20 to 30% 3 years after treatment.
The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
American Cancer Society: If Your Child Is Diagnosed With Cancer: A resource for parents and loved ones of a child who has cancer that provides information about how to cope with some of the problems and questions that come up just after a child is diagnosed